It is baffling who advised Prime Minister to declare victory over Wuhan Virus at a time when India had not even started vaccination of 45 and above population. The Prime Minister would not have made such a declaration unless experts from ICMR, Niti Aayog and Centre for Cellular & Molecular Biology (CCMB) would have cleared such an assertion at a global platform. Why I raise this point is that we need to take a relook at our national security apparatus that is supposed to assess and advise government to take proactive approach on traditional and non-traditional threats and not allow political leadership and executives to go into reckless lethargy or hubris on the basis of gross miscalculation of the impending national security challenges. When Prime Minister announces that India has achieved victory over Wuhan Virus at a global forum, citizens do take such statements as a gospel truth and people are likely to throw precautions to the winds. No matter what happened later during assembly elections and Kumbh Mela is a separate story altogether. But fundamental question is, do we have resilient and matured institutions that canforewarn impending traditional and non-traditional threats without fear of political or administrative retribution? Institutions must render advice to the government in an unbiased manner purely in the national interest. The blame here cannot be attributed squarely on political leaders even if they overlooked the expert’s’ advice. The job of experts is not only to render advice and sit back, but to ensure that governments do follow their advice in the larger interest of the people and the state.
It is important to debate this issue so that we learn a lesson from this calamity and not repeat such a humongous mistake that is being termed as a national calamity of un-proportionate nature. Lack of health infrastructure and lack of preparations is also being termed as genocide by judiciary and civil society. Who faltered, political leadership or expert’s committees? One of the factor is that politicians are not experts and hence institutions with experts have been created to render timely advice and suggestion so that political leadership can take decisions in the interest of the people. Even if an advice is rendered formally or informally in the form of report or presentation and yet political leadership choose “politics over people” than the institutions must flag issues without fear of retribution so that course correction is ensured and political leadership and executive are made accountable for any lapses thereafter.
Did the Expert’s Committees Faltered to assess the Impact of Second Wave?
There is a need to examine, did expert’s committees such as ICMR and Niti Aayogcarried out assessment of possibility of breakout of more lethal second wave as seen in some European and South American countries sometime between November 2020 andJanuary 2021? Because the world at that time was battling with second wave, whereas, in India the Wuhan virus curve had flattened. It also coincided with Prime Minister declaring victory over Wuhan Virus during the World Economic Forum sometime in the last week of January 2021. The big question is if the expert’s committees failed to remind the government to prepare for second wave, they are culpable of genocide and if they did warn government then why did they not inform the president, health sector or judiciary if political leadership ignored their opinion. It must be noted that ultimately these expert’s committees have the responsibility and accountability towards the people more than their political masters.
The circumstances do indicate that in this case political leadership is of course culpable but institutions such as ICMR and Niti Aayog have greater accountability to protect the lives of the citizens. Head of these institutions must realise that the lives of fellow citizens are more important than inviting wrath of the political masters. Though Reuters claimed that the scientists of Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genetics Consortium (INSACOG), had warned Indian officials in early March of a new and more contagious variant of the coronavirus taking hold in the country. As per the Reuters the advice was ignored and little was done to contain the disease.
What should be Done now?
To undo the damages, is challenging but not impossible. Oxygen crisis can be managed if government works systematically and can be sorted out in a matter of one to two weeks. It just requires an AI enabled app to identify and register all hospitals district wise and their daily/ weekly requirement of oxygen with minimum 10% reserve. Similarly, total production of oxygen district wise can be registered and any deficiency thereafter can be made up either by establishing plants or transportation from other areas. Chaos at this stage is that government centre and state governments are not even aware of the requirement of oxygen per hospitals since these hospitals are not registered on AI enabled app. If this app was made functional even now the supply and availability of oxygen at each hospital can be updated at district/ state/ and at central level. The hospitals those who do not register on this app can be barred from demanding oxygen from government sources. This app should have been made by ICMR/ Niti Aayog and shortage of oxygen that took 100s of lives could have been averted.
Even if the expert’s committee had not prepared the forecast of spike of Wuhan Virus in second or third wave, it must now work out the worst case scenario and identify the infrastructure required in terms of hospital beds, ventilators, oxygen attached beds and other ancillary support. Even the OPD must be expanded. Government can encourage private hospitals to make home visit to render health check-up and Corona related medical advice. However, there is a need to lay down cap on charges for daily/ weekly visit by Drs/ healthcare workers. This can best be monitored if such health care advice/service is registered on line and payments also made online.
What is more important at this stage is to assess the attrition rate on Corona warriors. Thus there is a need to keep second and third line of Corona warriors ready to step in. If the government does not keep pace with the training and deployment of this work force in time, the casualty rates will jump manifolds. It is time for the government to identify all private practitioners who can be called for national duty. Similarly, final year students of medical and nursing colleges should be kept on short notice for deployment.
Another area of human resource that government must keep a watch is those who are running essential services such as electricity, water, sanitation workers, internet and technical manpower that keep high end machines andnetwork centric systems functional. There is a need for states to keep and register second and third line reserve work force ready and trained to step in if attrition rate goes beyond acceptable limit.
Last but not the least is an issue of public order. There are visible signs of desperation among the population. Hoarding and black marketing of oxygen and essential medicines is rampant. The law and order situation could worsen if the casualty rate rises and exploitation of people cross an acceptable limit. Many hospitals have been targeted by hooligans and some family members. Government must keep Central Police Forces and Army on standby before situation turns ugly. Public disorder can be triggered by disgruntled political opponents, criminal elements of the society and even by the state sponsored non-state actors. States asking for army to fight Wuhan Virus is not the right approach, Army should be kept on standby to restore public disorder if it breaks down.
It is a testing time for the nation and civil society. It is true that political leaders and institutions responsible to forewarn governments and people must be made accountable for the slip up, but at the same time in a synergised manner government and people must act to minimise the damages. The bottom-line is that institutions of governance and expert’s committees must render advice keeping primacy of the national interest and not the political interest.